New News: Statements by Attorney General Holder and Agriculture Secretary Vilsack on Court Approval of Pigford II Black farmer Settlement Agreement from 10/28/2011 WASHINGTON, October 28, 2011– Attorney General Eric Holder and Agriculture Secretary Tom Vilsack released the following statements on the U.S. District Court for the District of Columbia approval of the historic Pigford II settlement: "This settlement allows the Department of Agriculture and African-American farmers to focus on the future, and brings us one step closer to giving these farmers a chance to have their claims heard," said Attorney General Holder. "Accomplishing this settlement has been a top priority of this Administration and I am pleased that the court has approved it." "Since my first day at USDA, I made it a priority to treat all Americans with respect and dignity and to ensure equal access to our programs. Court approval of the Pigford settlement is another important step to ensure some level of justice for black farmers and ranchers who faced discrimination when trying to obtain services from USDA," said Secretary Vilsack. "President Obama, Attorney General Holder and I are thrilled by the court's approval so we can continue turning the page on this sad chapter in USDA history. In the months and years ahead, we will not stop working to move the Department into a new era as a model employer and premier service provider for all Americans regardless of race, ethnicity or gender." On Feb.18, 2010, USDA and the U.S. Department of Justice announced an agreement with African-American farmers to settle the Pigford II litigation for $1.25 billion. Congress passed the Claims Settlement Act that funded the settlement in November 2010, and the bill was signed by President Obama in December 2010. The bill that passed the Senate and House included strong protections against waste, fraud and abuse to ensure integrity of the claims process. The claims process will soon be established and announced for individuals who may have faced discrimination. In February 2010, the Departments of Justice and Agriculture announced the Pigford II settlement with African American farmers, in October 2010, the departments announced the Keepseagle settlement with Native American farmers, and in February 2011, the departments announced the establishment of a process to resolve the claims of Hispanic and women farmers and ranchers. Earlier this year, USDA also released a Civil Rights Assessment report that detailed an aggressive plan to promote equal access and opportunity at the department. The Department of Agriculture is currently implementing many of the department-wide recommendations that will help USDA improve service delivery to minority and socially disadvantaged farmers and ranchers, and enhance program delivery and outreach to promote diversity, inclusion and accessibility. An overview of these comprehensive efforts is available at www.ascr.usda.gov/new_era_at_cr_.html.